Monday, November 20, 2006

Iraq: Pace Goes Long For Lack of Troops

The all-military study group on Iraq led by JCS Chairman Gen. Pace has moved quicker than appeared in last week's news (post on the Pace study) says today's Washington Post in the wrongly entitled "Pentagon May Suggest Short Term Build-Up Leading To Iraq Exit":

The military's study, commissioned by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, comes at a time when escalating violence is causing Iraq policy to be reconsidered by both the White House and the congressionally chartered, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Pace's effort will feed into the White House review, but military officials have made it clear they are operating independently. The Pentagon group's proceedings are so secret that officials asked to help it have not even been told its title or mandate. But in recent days the circle of those with knowledge of its deliberations has widened beyond a narrow group working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (...)

The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials. Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said.

The trouble with the proposed solution is that the "go Big" option is deselection not because it is not thought effective, but because there are not a sufficient number of troops. The situation is basically that the number of troops needed closely resembles those proposed by Gen. Zinni and Gen. Shinseki early on, and which e.g. Quinlivan's estimations* would call for:
"Go Big," the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.
Since "Go Home" would probably have clearly short and long-term consequences, the middle option -- as always, when anyone presentsyou with three alternatives -- seems to be the order of the day. The study group apparently wants to increase the trooplevel upfront for then to scale a bit back while still staying: "Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long" is the not-so-elegant shorthand for staying the course with few alterations in troop size. The crucial question is whether the group has gathered and decided on any specific and innovative operational designs -- that may mean better outcomes for the same money or footprint? The planners seem to have understood that Iraq will take at least as long as the Balkans (and that is given a positive scenario):
Another potential obstacle to the "Go Long" option is that it runs counter to the impulse of many congressional Democrats to find a way to get out of Iraq quickly. Planners envision taking five to 10 more years to create a stable and competent Iraqi army. Because it wouldn't lead to a swift exit, some Democrats could criticize this option as a disguised version of "staying the course."

On the other hand, the hybrid version of "Go Long" may be remarkably close to the recommendation that the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). That group's findings, expected to be issued next month, are said to focus on changing the emphasis of U.S. military operations from combating the insurgency to training Iraqis, and also to find ways to increase security in Baghdad and bring neighboring countries into talks about stabilizing Iraq.

Interesting to note the agenda setting tactics of Pace group -- probably in the light of the attention given to Baker's ISG. And of course that they seem to wind up with pretty comparable solutions in terms of grand design. Hopefully this means the Democrats will cool off the get out instincts.

"Force Requirements in Stability Operations", Parameters, 1995.

Rangel's Draft of a Draft Return

The US abolishment of the draft in 1973 was of course a result of Vietnam, but also rested on another, organizational logic. Namely, that the potential for a more professional Army was higher with an all-volunteer model. This perspective, moreover, fitted absolutely nicely with the transformation agenda of the 1990s: the vision called for far fewer men, empowered through more gadgets and technology. The UN peacekeeping missions (and other MOOTW/contingency operations) which exploded during the decade seemed very old-fashioned compared to this.

The post-9/11 situation, however, has shown how close the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan are to the PKOs: operations that are political in nature, dealing with the local populace to gain its trust, calls for a large footprint in terms of manpower. So the draft is back on the agenda -- for lack of men -- as proposed today by Rep. Charles Rangel.

A reinstatement of the draft, more than merely provide manpower, could probably change elements of the relationship between the Pentagon and the general population in the States. The oft-mentioned socio-economic bias in the self-selected troops would decrease and the Army would start looking a bit more like the rest of the population. And having more drafted middle-class pfcs would likely bring with an increased form of attention, which might be healthy. But the spectre of these changes is also the reason why the draft will have a hard time returning -- in spite of the need.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Iraq: The Dirty Shiite Option

This Friday evening post only to introduce the troubling collection of perspectives on supporting the Shi'ites in Iraq in this Dan Drezner post: "The quickest and dirtiest path out of Iraq". In that context, please do check out James Fearon's apt House testimony, which Drezner links to. Here's the exec summary:
• By any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, the scale and extent of which is limited somewhat by the US military presence.
• Civil wars typically last a long time, with the average duration of post-1945 civil wars being over a decade.
• When they end, they usually end with decisive military victories (at least 75%).
• Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best.
• When they have occurred, stable power-sharing agreements have usually required years of fighting to reach, and combatants who were not internally factionalized.

• The current US strategy in Iraq aims to help put in a place a national government that shares power and oil revenues among parties closely linked to the combatants in the civil war. The hope is that our presence will allow the power-sharing agreement to solidify and us to exit, leaving a stable, democratic government and a peaceful country.

• The historical record on civil war suggests that this strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the US stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more). Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.

• Thus, ramping up or “staying the course” amount to delay tactics, not plausible recipes for success as the administration has defined it.
• Given that staying the course or ramping up are not likely to yield peace and a government that can stand on its own, I argue for gradual redeployment and repositioning of our forces in preference to an extremely costly permanent occupation that ties our hands and damages our strategic position in both the region and the world.
• Redeployment and repositioning need to be gradual primarily so that Sunni and Shiite civilians have more time to sort themselves out by neighborhood in the major cities, making for less killing in the medium run. Depending on how the conflict evolves, redeployment might take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years.
• The difficult questions for US policy concern the pace and manner of redeployment: how to manage it so as to maximize the leverage it will give us with various groups in Iraq; and how to manage it so as to minimize the odds of terrorists with regional and global objectives gaining a secure base in the Sunni areas.

According to Fearon's research, only 25% of civil wars have ended without a decisive military victory, of which 17 points are the result of a powersharing agreement. The very tricky question is whether both the playing out of a full-scale civil war and non-powersharing result are endstates the coalition can live with? Or can a turn of the table result in a faster solution -- but one that results in a constitutional setup not too far from the present?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

African Command: Funky Pentagon Visions

Apparently, the visions working their way around the Pentagon for the expected new African Command are far more colorful than one would have imagined just a few months ago. According to the Voice of America:
The U.S. Defense Department established a working group Monday to develop a detailed plan by early next year for a possible new Africa Command in the U.S. military structure. But an official familiar with the process says such a command could look very different from the five existing U.S. regional commands. The Pentagon has established an Implementation Planning Team, and it takes the effort to create an Africa Command to a new level of intensity. The issue has been under discussion by the staff of the top U.S. military commanders for about two months.

Now, according to a Pentagon official who requested anonymity, the effort is being expanded to involve a couple of dozen people working full time. (...) The spokesman says the Pentagon is seeking more effective ways to improve counter-terrorism cooperation, prevent and respond to humanitarian crises, and promote stability in Africa. He says the U.S. government is consulting what he calls "key foreign security partners" as the Africa Command plan is being developed. (...)

This official says, if Africa Command is created, it could look quite different from the other U.S. regional commands. Those commands are organized first and foremost to fight wars, although they are also involved in a variety of non-combat operations, such as humanitarian relief and training. The official says the planning group is considering flipping that model for Africa Command, organizing it primarily, or perhaps even exclusively, for non-combat operations designed to prevent wars.

The official also says the team working on the Africa Command issue recognizes that the continent's problems are not primarily military. He says that is why representatives of other U.S. government agencies have been brought into the process, and may also have more substantial representation in the structure of the command itself than they do in other U.S. regional commands.

Basically, then, the new African Command would deal with foreign policy: economic development and political stabilization. It will be interesting to see whether Pentagon really means it -- and will be willing to integrate and coordinate with (even on some choices subordinate itself to) e.g. USAID. The sensible international version would essentially include the already existing multilateral universe, from foreign development partners such as IMF, WB, UNDP ... and the EU, whose civil crisis management capabilities are growing and are being considered deployed to Afghanistan to support the NATO operation there.

Even merely partially played out this way would be akin to the intention of the QDR Long War conceptualization. The narrower we-didn't-mean-it-that-much version would keep African Command focussed on security issues (but as said not warfighting), meaning that it would do PKO coordination and training (like the African PKO training programmes) plus different kinds of internal assistance ranging from (military) security sector reform to foreign internal defense operations and operational assistance with counterinsurgency.

This latter model is the minimum -- but it would be interesting to see elements of the former included, at least in terms of organs for operative coordination (the inter-agency problem revisited). The challenge here is to find a way of organizing coordination without hierarchy -- between only partially aligned mission definitions and especially self-conceptions from civil multilateral to military national perspectives.

On Iraq Zinni Agrees With McCain: Less Troops Is More Trouble

As an add-on to yesterday's note on the faulty logic behind the rush to the Iraqi exit door after the US midterms, the NYT's Michael Gordon brings this article today "Get Out Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say" quoting, among others, Zinni:

Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.

“The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,” General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. “Well, you can’t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.”

Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to “regain momentum” as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.

Speaking of the importance of fixing the political and exonomic side as part of a Phase IV or counterinsurgency or post-conflict S&R or whatever you like to call it, Hans Binnendijk was in Copenhagen recently with some interesting analyses. Danish speakers may go for this interview from P1 Orientering. I might return to some of his NATO related points in a later post as we approach the Riga Summit.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Iraq: Danish Media Storm Amid COIN Lessons

Danish media are on a rampage to get the Danish troops out of Iraq asap: how else, do they seem to think, can one interpret the outcome of the US midterms? Well, first the Iraq Study Group hasn't come out with proposals yet, neither has the Pace study group (see preceding post). Second, in spite of the probable political impossibility, one model would be the one championed by Senator John McCain, namely sending in more troops. The need for more troops is obvious -- given that they do the right things.

But whatever the outcome (which by now looks like a coming rejection of responsibility by the Western political leaders), Iraq still offers lessons on the operational level -- lessons that will be sorely needed the next time around, meaning anywhere the Long War is being fought. One good example comes from
Defense Tech's portrayal of UK Lt. Col. Labouchere.
Accustomed as I am to heavy, bristling, techy American methods in Iraq, I was shocked and little bit unnerved by Labouchere's "keep it simple" philosophy. But when I saw it working ... when I saw the way locals had warmed to his presence ... when I saw how much ground he covered and how quickly ... I declared his methods "revolutionary". "This is actually quite an old way of doing things," Labouchere countered. I saw his point: overlooking for a moment the vital presence of the sophisticated Merlins, there's no new technology in the battlegroup. We're talking diesel engines, machine guns, radios, maps and canvas cots. What's novel, in the context of this war, is Labouchere's confidence in tradition and basic principles. But he's right. Delicate communications networks can't replace a friendly local populace. (...) An American base housing a thousand troops might generate a dozen small patrols per day. Labouchere does twice as much work with half the force -- and he does it more cheaply and with a proportionally smaller footprint that's far less irritating to Iraqis.

But could a force like Labouchere's survive in an urban jungle like Baghdad, where coalition forces have turned to heavier and heavier vehicles for protection against rockets and roadside bombs? "Why couldn't it?" Labouchere asks. He points to another historical lesson, this one from Northern Ireland, where British heavy vehicles just pissed off the natives and provoked a proportional response. If we went light in Baghdad, Labouchere's argument goes, it might help defuse some of the tension. And it would certainly be cheaper.

It's a bold proposal, but one with firm grounding in history ... and one getting an early test run on Maysan's sandy wastes. Imagine a Stryker brigade adopting Labouchere's model. Imagine what we could accomplish combining American resources with Labouchere's no-nonsense methods. Now imagine that American commanders had half his guts and smarts.
The Brits on many levels have a natural advantage over the US forces on this level. Their advantage stems not just from the historical experiences in Malaya and Northern Ireland, but as much from the different warfighting ethos in the British Army, leaving more room for the 'softie' political realm of counterinsurgency. As far as one can tell, SOCOM appears too functionally focused on the hard end of unconventional operations, not least in terms of Human Ressourcing.

On the other hand, the US Army does have some leeway for experimenting during these years, including luckily it seems giving local commanders pretty much freedom to find their optimal way as the comment to the story above on Defense Tech shows:
I spent a tour in an unnamed Iraqi city as an infantryman (not SF, ranger or SEAL: just plain infantry) and we conducted our operations as a hybrid between this Brit tactic and the static base American idea. Our daily patrols were conducted in unarmored stripped command HMMWVs with post mounted 240's and 6-8 troops per truck. We would patrol along, stop and check in with the locals, talk with shopkeepers, police, locals, farmers whoever happened to be there. We also gave some space to mosques on Friday and worked with the Imams to find foreign fighters.

Our other tactic was extensive use of 3-5 man teams walking out to set up OP's wherever we could find a good spot. This was my primary mission, it was against policy, it was very risky, we had very limited support.... and it worked. I could go into a house in the afternoon, sit on a roof be served a great dinner, enjoy some tea and walk out with a couple names of insurgents. We very rarely saw any truly illicit activity mostly because no one knew where the Americans actually were. More than a few times I walked out of a place and the owner didn't know I was there. It was the fact that we did not use trucks for insertion, had and used stealth and the element of surprise that we quickly became an island of silence in a province that was torn by violence.

Just to counter some future post about small town, or little villages, this city grew to over 50,000 during our tour. When we transferred to the next unit they said there was no need for this type of operation. Within weeks they were in the news, with very unfortunate results. (emphasis added).
The challenge will then be for the Army and everyone else to complete the learning circuit by collecting, analysing and incorporating these operational experiments and experiences.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pace, McMaster Review of Iraq, GWOT, Long War

Amid the fuss about the nomination of Robert Gates, a member of the Iraq Study Group to replace Secretary Rumsfeld, it is very interesting to note (hat tip to Defense Tech) that a Pentagon internal review related to Iraq and the wider war on terror (GWOT or Long War or maybe a new concept) is under way. Lead by General Pace, JCS Chairman, that group includes Colonel H. R. McMaster, the author of the awesome analysis of Dereliction of Duty.

The post-Election Day resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be a strong indication that a sharp turn in Iraq strategy is in the offing, according to experts. The Joint Staff review is being carried out in extraordinary secrecy. A spokesman for Pace said this week the group has no formal name but its role is "to assess what's working and what's not working" in Iraq and beyond. (...)

Participants include Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who until earlier this year commanded a cavalry regiment that pacified the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Tall Afar, though violence has since returned to that town. Another team member is Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who directs an Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency school at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The Marine Corps reportedly has sent Col. Thomas Greenwood, director of the Marine Command and Staff College, and the other services are represented on the study team, as well.

The Joint Staff strategy review kicked off in late September and was originally slated to last 60 days, though it now appears work will continue into December, according to officials familiar with the group who are not authorized to speak for it. (...)

The results may prove surprising, some say. The Pace group is headed toward making some bold and unconventional recommendations -- ones that may demand consensus across party lines as Bush struggles to work with newly empowered Democrats in Congress. The president and a variety of lawmakers have staked out opposing positions on troop levels for Iraq and what their objectives and strategy should be.

If the various political factions dig in their heels on their respective concepts for Iraq, they might yet all agree on one thing: that the Pace recommendations are politically naive and dead on arrival, some officials warned.

The political context of the ISG recommendations being almost sure to be implemented -- the defensive ones at least -- means that this JCS led review may a) be politically dead as mentioned, but also b) still be highly interesting as it will most probably offer a peak into the newest military thnking about the wider war on terror in general and counterinsurgency in particular. So for strategic and intellectual if probably not so much for policy reasons, this is worth following.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Domestic JSF Woes In Partner Countries

Countries such as Denmark and Holland which are participating in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter are to sign a MOU concerning the production phase within the next month or so. Predictably, domestic trouble is brewing in the media before this decision -- which is a step on the way to replace the ageing F16s.

Danish Minister of Defense Søren Gade today reacted to Danish media reports that a Dutch Court of Audit publication has estimated the future price of the Joint Strike Fighter to as high as about US$180m. Mr. Gade called the reported estimate numbers utter non-sense and stuck instead to the official JSF numbers (US$45m) plus a handful of wiggling space, namely US$50m-67m. This contrasts with the official USAF cost hike announcement of a US taxpayer price of US$82m. The hike, however, is seen as not affecting export prices -- something the Danish taxpayers would appreciate a whole lot (see e.g. this cut'n paste from Defense News at dedefensa).

For sure, no one knows what the ultimate price will be -- but it is almost certain to rise. The large unknown elements in terms of timing and delivery on capability promises are exacerbated by the design of the development and production phases which are intertwined (this March '06 report from the GAO makes that point pretty clearly, pdf). Of course and traditionally, defense R&D will almost necesarily involve more slack due to the high price of being cutting edge than regular industry R&D where the first move effect can be an advantage but is not a necessity.

A more juicy angle concerns the political fallouts and dynamics from business to identity politics. These are more domestic than anything else (and replicated in each JSF collaborating country). The importance of a good and close relationship with the US is both evident for the geopolitically inclined and also the source of the single most contentious foreign policy issue in most European countries. In this context there is a whole lot of symbolics at work when considering the different aircraft contenders (What would it mean e.g. "to go with the French model"?). In the countries participating in the JSF development programme the element of inertia in general and as an expression of the national relationship-tradition strength means that the JSF will probably carry the day with the support of the national MoDs.

Two kinds of incidents could damage this perception of path dependency. First, Pentagon internal decisions might weaken the partner countries' willingness to continue the project. The most integrated partners, as the Brits e.g., will not like another attempt at cutting their per STOVL version from the first. The UK is, howver, heavily invested in the project (big subcontrcator is BAe). Second, a well honed political media storm based on a mix of concern with the lack of transparency, critiques of probable but non-admitted cost overruns might just weaken the necessary domestic consensus to either sign the MOU or -- an extreme scenario -- make the JSF a flagship agenda for a coming government. The unpredictabilities pointed out in the GAO and Dutch reports might just create the basis for that.

The business side of the JSF deal make the pricing and total cost estimates even less transparent. The political system of handing out return contracts to national defense industries serves to underpin these sensitive areas -- as it has since the creation of NATO -- since the market for and cost of gear production has outgrown the capacity of even medium size countries.

At least part of the deal here seems to be questioned if the price should end by increasing substantially: in each case the national governments will have to shell out while the industries will be recompensated. The ramification is then that Lockheed's competence (which is already somewhat dependent upon the national subcontractors) will then be determining for the level of indirect national subsidies to the subcontractors... That part looks like a recipe for moral hazard.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Note to Art: Please Don't Hans Zimmer Me Like That

I probably should start by offering my excuses to the gentleman to my right. About half an hour into Babel -- a new movie by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of Amores Perros and 21 Grams -- I began yawning, stretching, turning my head, and all the other things you want to but don't when you're in a lit public setting and highly uncomfortable. All through the movie, I resented Babel and by extension its creator -- for being intellectually annoying and wasting my time.Babel is an ensemble movie -- Robert Altmanesque -- where five intertwined (told time) and related stories unfold in the Moroccan desert, the US-Mexican border and in a Japanese megapolis. Critique at three levels follows: (briefly) the production, (longer) the story lines, and the aggregate problematic outcome as proposed art/wisdom/analysis input. Babel wants to be (sm)art -- but is really unstructured multilingual chatter plus good intentions.

Babel is looooooooooooooooong. Dreadfully long (142 mins). Told without any kind of discipline or with a weak man's discipline: exorbitantly long musical illustrations of emotions in non-speaking sequences are probably meant to evoke emotions -- or to show that the director or camera man has a sense asthetics. Looooooooong shots of a helicopter landing, flying, landing, people coming in and out it. And in slow motion. Etc. Etc. Beautiful panoramic shots indeed -- but not there for any other reason than that it would be a waste of helicopter rental time and good footage. The production -- cutting, editing, score, scenography -- reinforces the bad things about the script's storylines.

Babel contains five loosely related stories. First there is the story of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's ailing marriage. She gets shot: he takes care of her. Romantic and/or primitive surroundings exacerbate crisis but in light of later solution actually give time for contemplation. The morale of the story is that in times of crisis -- which we cannot predict -- fundamental positive human values like love, trust, intimacy are more important than the other things we do. Basic corny Hollywood stuff.

Then there is the story of the poor Moroccan goat herd family. Dad buys a rifle and tells herder sons to shoot hyenas. They practice and irresponsibly shoots at tourist bus with Westerners. Incident perceived as terrorism: brutal police mistreats everyone local and end up killing the other son. The morales of the second story is that Maghreb needs security sector reform and the weak always get screwed by any system. On the first: True, but I don't need that analysis coming from a guy who spent more of his life looking at dolly grips than at ICG reports. Second: Yes, that is true and awful. But anyone who reads the papers knows this. That fact either makes this point superfluous or part of an evangilization of the untouched. Fine intention -- but don't make me pay to watch it please.

The third story involves Brad's and Cate's travel companions who're rich, Western gawkers looking for exotic beauty of the landscape and perhaps the locals -- but also awfully afraid of the unknown and beset with fear of native or islamic terrorism while sitting in their bus in a far away village. They, like the Embassy, want to help but focus on their own agenda. Morale's related to the second above: systems work haphazardly and so self-protection is necessary but that can of course contradict basic human values.

Fourth story takes place in Japan: rifle-giving widower tries to take care of troubled teenage daughter who -- awful choice of prop -- is deaf-mute. She flirts with boys, gets rejected, flirts with suicide, doesn't do it. Morale: In late puberty it sucks to be bad at communication, hence late puberty sucks, which we knew already. Also, system works better in Japan (police man's humanity) and familial love is a big plus.

The final story takes place in San Diego where illegal immigrant nanny takes care of Brad's and Cate's kids and is told not to leave for son's wedding in Mexico due to Cate having a hole in her neck. She brings the kids to Mexico, has a blast and evidently faces problems getting them back into the US. Surprise. Drunk nephew driver makes a runner at border and she winds up with kids in desert, is arrested and deported. Morale: Systems do what they do but they are arbitrary and inhumane so they kind of suck (but please think before acting). Plus, the logical corrollary to the system analysis: the weak are generally screwed.

Apart from these repetitive morales there is a lesson about the interconnection between globalization and the necessity of humanitarian relations. The analyses offered by Babel are problematic because they're basically late puberty subversiveness wrapped up in commercial-like ochre tones and foreign languages.

There is nothing in this movie except that general observation about the imperfections of administrative systems and the importance of being a mensch to those around you. A film that presents itself as art -- as having something deeper to say about life -- should be met with the same analytical criteria we apply to anything else. Babel annoys because it wants to be an incisive mensch when it is only longwinded and basic.

But look who's talking. Thank you for your time. And really: sorry about annoying you, Sir.